g to one of the Gṛhya Sūtras, Brahminical texts on domestic rituals, of either rice or barley cooked with either milk or water and was used as an offering to the gods. After being offered this food was eaten (A I 166; D I 97; S II 242). The Nidānakathā gives the recipe for a rice dish called gavapāna. To make it, one would boil milk until it thickened, add rice a little at a time, then add a cooked mixture of honey, palm sugar, flour and ghee and then allow it simmer until the rice was soft (Ja I 33). In several places in the Tipiṭaka women are dismissed as having a ‘two-fingered wit’ (S I 129). According to the commentary, this refers to the housewives’ habit of squeezing grains of boiling rice between the thumb and first finger to see if it is cooked. See Pasādiyā.

Tamāla. Indian Cassia, Cinnamomum tamala (Pv-a 213). A medium-sized straight tree with shiny oblong leaves and a small cream-coloured flower. The bark of this tree produces an inferior cinnamon now rarely used, and the leaves have medicinal properties and are also used in cooking. The Mahāvastu mentions the use of a perfumed powder made from the leaves of Indian Cassia (Mvu II 15).

Tambakipillika. The name means ‘copper-coloured ant’ and refers to the Red Weaver Ant, Oecophylla smaragdina, also tambakipillaka. This common large red or rusty-coloured ant lives in trees where it makes its nest by weaving leaves together (Ja IV 375) and feeds on flies, moths, beetles and caterpillars. It is an aggressive ant, sinking its large mandibles into any intruder and squirting it with formic acid from a gland at the base of its abdomen. One Jātaka story describes a mass of dry twigs, leaves and red weaver ants falling out of a sal tree onto an elephant (Ja V 39). See Kunthakipillaka.

Tambūla. Betel Vine, Piper betle, Ja I 266. A deciduous creeper with a semi-woody stem and shiny green heart-shaped leaves. Combined with lime and various spices the leaf is chewed with the nut of the betel palm, Areca catechu. as a mild stimulant. The leaves and nuts were kept in a little bag (Ja VI 367). The Jātaka mentions the leaves being chewed together with takkola (Ja I 291; II 320; V 315).

Chewing betel nut is not mentioned in the four Nikāyas, the Vinaya, the Mahābhārata, the Rāmāyaṇa or other early literature, suggesting that it must have only been introduced into northern India from the south around the time of the composition of the commentary to the Jātaka. See Nāgalatā, Bhujalaṭṭhi and Pūga.

Taraccha. Striped Hyena, Hyaena hyaena (A III 101; Ja V 416). An ungainly sulking carnivore with long ears, a sloping back with a light grey body with black stripes and a black chest. Hyenas have an eerie laughing call ending in a cackle and live in scrub and around villages where they scavenge. Although thought of as scavengers they are also effective predators. Forest-dwelling monks were sometimes attacked by hyenas and they were not allowed to eat hyena flesh (Vin I 220).

Tāla. Palmyra Palm, Borassus flabellifer, sometimes tālataruṇa (D II 171; 182; M I 187; Vin I 189), a tall unbranched palm having large fan-like leaves with thorns on the margins of the stalks. The round yellow fruit appears in large bunches. The leaves of the palmyra were used to make huts, fans, sunshades and various household articles (Th 127). The sap of the male flower was used to make an alcoholic beverage called jalogi. Whether or not it was allowable for monks and nuns to drink unfermented jalogi was discussed at the Second Buddhist Council (Vin II 301). When reduced by boiling, this sap was also made a gritty brown sugar which was called sakkharā (Ja I 251; 348). The Buddha often describes the enlightened person’s destruction of the defilements to a palmyra trunk which, unlike many other trees, will not grow again after it is cut down (A I 137). Hatred, he said, should be separated from the mind with the ease that a ripe palmyra fruit separates from the stalk (It 84). The Buddha’s radiant complexion was compared to the translucent yellow fruit from the palmyra palm just loosened from the stalk (A I 181). The height of the tree was used as a rough unit of measurement. Something of significant height was said to be as high as seven palmyra palms (D III 27). See Kiṇṇa.

Tāḷīsa. Indian Plum or Coffee Plum, Flacourtia jangomas, sometimes tālisa or tāḷissa (Ja IV 286. A small erect tree with a fragrant blue-green flower. When young the trunk is covered with very long thorns while older trees have smooth pale bark. The tree is cultivated for its pleasant-tasting plum. The Buddha recommended a medicine made from this tree, probably from the wood or bark (Vin I 203).

Tiṇa. Grass, also saddala (A I 145; D II 19). Grasses are variable and widespread plants of the family Gramineae. More than a dozen species of grass are mentioned in the Tipiṭaka. The Buddha said that a monk or nun should not steal anything, not even a blade of grass (Vin I 96). Various useful items were made out of grass. We read of grass mats (Vin I 286) and of houses being thatched with grass (A I 101; Vin II 148). Growing amongst the crops, grass becomes a weed and a curse (Dhp 358). There is mention of whole jungles of grass (A I 153; S II 152) which were sometimes set on fire so that many creatures died (S II 152). This probably refers to the Terai-Duar grasslands ecoregion on the northern edge of the Ganges plain. The Buddha required his monks and nuns to stay put during the monsoon so that they would not tread down crops and grass and injure the tiny creatures that lived among them (Vin I 137). He described graminivores (tiṇabhakkha) as ‘cropping both green and dried grass with their teeth’ and mentioned elephants, horses, cattle, donkeys, goats and deer as examples of them (M III 167).

The Buddha mentioned that on retiring to the forest for meditation he would gather grass and leaves for a seat to sit on. (A I 182). On one occasion a Brahmin had prepared a bed of grass for the Buddha to sleep on in his fire hall. When the ascetic Māgandiya saw this he commented disapprovingly to the Brahmin: ‘It is a sorry sight indeed when we see the bed of the Master Gotama, that destroyer of growth’ (M I 502). Perhaps Māgandiya belonged to a sect that considered even cutting plants to qualify as killing. Several species of grass mentioned in the Tipiṭaka which cannot be identified include jantu, a pale-coloured grass (Vin I 196), poṭakila, a soft grass (Ja VI 508; Th 27; Vin II 150) and kamala, a grass used to make sandals (Vin I 190). Other types of grass were tiriyā (A III 240), majjāru (Vin I 196) and eragu (Vin I 196). See Babbaja, Dabba, Kusa and Sara.

Tiṇahaṃsa. A type of water bird (Ja V 356). The name means ‘grass goose’ or ‘grass duck’.

Tittakalābu. Bitter Gourd, Momordica charantia, also tittakālābu. A common slender climber covered with velvety hairs and with a yellow flower. The fruit is long and thin, ribbed, tapering to a point at both ends and yellow when ripe. It is also extremely bitter but is eaten in the belief that it is good for the health. The Buddha mentioned the seeds of this plant along with those of the nimba and the kosātakī as being very bitter (A I 31). He said that the doctrines of some of the other teachers of the time were like a concoction of bitter gourd and poison, unpleasant now and with unpleasant consequences later (M I 315). He also mentioned that when he was practising austerities before his enlightenment he became so emaciated that his scalp looked like a bitter gourd withered by the sun (M I 80).

Tittira. Sometimes also daddara. One or another of the several grouse found in northern India, a common one being the Chestnut-bellied Sand Grouse, Pterocles exustus (Ja I 218; III 537). This is a small yellowish-brown ground bird with a thin black stripe across its breast and brownish-black belly. Hunters would catch one sand grouse and then train it to lure others into traps (Ja III 65). According to the Jātakas, the Bodhisatta was once reborn as one of these birds (Ja I 218).

Tinduka. Indian Persimmon, Diospyros malabarica, sometimes also tiṇḍuka, timbaru or timbarūsaka (Ja V 99; VI 93). A medium-sized evergreen tree with spreading branches sometimes reaching almost to the ground, a fragrant white flower and globose fruit covered with soft red velvety hair. An oil extracted from the seeds is used to treat dysentery. Queen Mallikā built a debating hall near a prominent tiṇḍuka tree in a park at Sāvatthī (D I 178). We read of villagers building a bamboo fence around one of these trees to stop the monkeys from eating the fruit (Ja II 76). A torch of tiṇḍuka wood, if struck, hisses, sputters and gives off sparks (A I 127). The ideal breasts of a woman were said to be like timbaru fruits: ‘Supreme breasts like timbaru fruits: timbaru fruit breasts are supreme, ultimate. Her pair of breasts are like a pair of golden colour timbaru fruits placed on a golden tray, well shaped and closely to each other’ (Ja VI 457).

Tipusa. See Kakkarāka.

Timi. A large marine animal, probably mythological, other types being ānandamaccha, timanda, timiṅgala, timitimiṅgala and timirapiṅgala (A IV 200; Ja I 207; IV 278; V 462; Ud 54). Seventeen species of whales and also the dugong swim in Indian waters and are occasionally washed up on beaches. It was probably reports of such creatures by fishermen and seafarers that gave rise to stories about sea monsters. It was said of these creatures that they were huge and that they ‘draw in and blow out great gulps of water’ (Mil 262). The Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam word for whale is thimingilam and the Kannada word is thimingila. See Susukā.

Timira. A type of tree (Ja III 189).

Timbaru. See Tinduka.

Timbarūsaka. See Tinduka.

Tiriyā. A type of grass. In one of the series of five dreams the Buddha had before his enlightenment, tiriyā grass sprouted from his navel and grew until it reached the clouds (A III 240). The Mahāvastu calls this grass kṣīrikā, a name suggesting that it had a milky (kṣīra) sap (Mvu II 137).

Tirivaccha. A type of tree (Ja V 46).

Tirīṭi. Symplocos racemosa, sometimes tirīṭaka (A I 240; II 206; D I 166). A small tree with a white flower and a rough bark which is used to make a type of cloth. See Rukkha.

Tila. Sesame, Sesamum indicum (A I 130; Ja I 67; Vin I 212). A small erect annual whose numerous tiny seeds yield an edible oil. Sesame was considered an essential food along with rice, beans, cereals, butter, sugar and salt (A IV 108). Before being stored, sesame seeds were washed and dried in the sun (Vv-a 54). Rice was cooked with sesame (Ja III 425), the seeds were ground into a paste (Vin I 205) or made into meal (piññāka, Vv-a 142) and the oil was drunk or used in cooking. Tilasaṅguḷikā was probably small balls of sesame seeds held together with jaggery, and is still a popular sweet in India (Vin II 17). A gruel of sesame, rice and green gram was given as a medicine (Vin I 210). When the Bodhisatta was practising austerities one of the things he ate was piññāka, a meal made from the pulp left after the oil had been extracted from sesame seeds (M I 78).

Sesame fields could be struck with a blight leaving the plants with only one or two leaves on them (S I 170). Oil from sesame and other seeds was extracted in a mill consisting of a large stone wheel that creaked as it turned (Ja I 25). To extract the oil, sesame meal would be sprinkled with water and then pressed (M III 142). There is mention of white sesame (setatila), i.e. sesame seeds with the hull removed (Ja II 278). A pimple or freckle was called tilaka for its resemblance to a sesame seed (M I 88). The Buddha mentioned that a border fortress would be supplied with fuel and food, including sesame, presumably to feed the inhabitants and to use when under siege (A IV 108). Some monks once asked the Buddha how long the lifespan of beings in the Paduma Purgatory was. He replied: ‘Imagine a Kosalan cart filled with twenty measures of sesame seeds and imagine that once every century one seed was removed from it. That cart would be empty sooner than the time in purgatory would be over.’ (A V 173).

Tilaka. Wendlandia heynei, (Vv-a 41; 43). A small erect tree, pubescent all over, with light brown bark and bearing fragrant creamy-white flowers.

Turī, also tūrī. What this name refers to is very uncertain. The eyes of the nun Subhā were compared to those of a turī (Thī 381) which suggests it might be a deer, as ancient Indians often compared women’s eyes to those of a doe. However, the commentary says the name refers to a species of bird. On the other hand, Turī was the name of the wife of the god Vāsudeva.

Tulasi. Holy Basil, Ocimum tenuiflorum (Ja V 46; VI 536; Vin IV 35) sometimes sulasī. A small many-branched herb with leaves covered with down and which grows throughout India. When crushed, the leaves have a pungent smell and taste and are chewed as a mouth freshener or an appetizer. Two other common species of basil are Ocimum gratissimum and Ocimum basilicum. Hindus consider basil sacred to the family and the more religious will always have a bush growing somewhere near the house. When boiled, the leaves give a bright yellow oil which has antibacterial and insecticidal properties.

Tuliya. Indian Flying Fox, Pteropus giganteus (Ja VI 537), an animal with a chestnut-brown coat, black ears and large black wings that are wrapped around its body when roosting, which it does by hanging upside down in trees. This flying fox eats fruit and is found all over India. The commentaries give the flying fox the alternative name of ‘winged cat’ (pakkhibiḷārā) and say it has the colour of a reed flower. See Pakkhabiḷāla and Rukkhasunakkha.

Tūla. Down or cotton-like fibre from either trees, creepers or grasses (Vin II 150). It was used to stuff quilt blankets, pillows and mattresses.

Tūlinī. A type of tree (M I 128).


Daṇḍamāṇavaka. This compound means ‘little stick man’ and was the name given to a particular type of bird, possibly a crane, lapwing or stork (D III 202). Brahmins who had been presented with a staff at their investiture ceremony were called ‘stick man’. The north Indian bird with the most stick-like legs is the Black-winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus a small wading bird with a black or grey head Black wings and white neck and belly. It has long pink legs and a long thin black beak. Solitary birds or small groups are often seen in marshes and shallow ponds where they eat fish, crustaceans and frogs. Sanskrit literature mentions a bird named koyaṣṭi, meaning ‘stick-like legs’ which may refer to this bird also. See Dindibha.

Daddara. See Tittira.

Daddula. See Taṇḍula.

Dabba. Spear Grass or Sword Grass, Imperata cylindrica, a type of grass (A II 207; Th 27), sometimes also dabbha and possibly the same as babbaja (Dhp 345). There is a great deal of confusion going back to ancient times between this and kusa grass. Likewise, there is little agreement between modern researchers as to their identity, some saying they are the same, others that they are different, and giving different botanical names for each. The ancient commentary on Suśrutasaṃhitā makes a clear distinction between the two, saying: ‘Kuśa is short and soft and has leaves like a needle while darbha has leaves which are broad, long and rough.’ The Theragāthā mentions them as different types (Th 27) and that position will be taken here. As for their Linnaean nomenclature, Patrick Olivelle’s opinion is followed here.

Dabba grass is mentioned in the Vedas, the Manusmṛti and other Brahminical text as being used in various religious ceremonies. The Buddhacarita mentions the sharp edges of darbha leaves (Bc VI.28).

Dālikā. Pomegranate Punica granatum (Thī 297), sometimes dālima, dāḍima or dāḷima. The pomegranate is a medium-sized shrub with small leaves, thorny drooping branches and a fleshy red flower. The fruit has a woody rind and separate compartments containing numerous seeds encased in a semi-transparent pink or red flesh.

Dāsima. A type of plant (Ja VI 536).

Dindibha. One or another of the four species of lapwing found in northern India, probably the Red-wattled Lapwing, Vanellus indicus (Ja VI 538), known as tiṭṭibha in Sanskrit. This large plover is brown above, white below, with black breast, head and neck and a white band running from the eyes down the side of the neck to the breast. It also has a bright red wattle in front of each eye. The lapwing is commonly seen in fields, open country and near water, running in short bursts as it hunts for food. At the slightest intrusion or sign of danger it makes a loud piercing ‘did he do it’ call becoming increasingly frantic until the danger or the intruder passes. See Daṇḍamānavaka.

Dīpi. Leopard, Panthera pardus, sometimes also dīpika or saddūla (A III 101; Ja I 132; II 44; VI 538). This large cat has a yellow coat marked with black rosettes and a white underside. Nocturnal and solitary by habit, leopards live in thick jungle and lurk around villages where they prey on livestock and sometimes even kill and eat humans. Black leopards, called panthers in English, are sometimes born in the same litter with the normal spotted ones. The monk Tāḷaputa described himself as living in a forest grove ‘resounding with the cries of peacocks and herons and favoured by leopards and tigers’ (Th 1113). Royal chariots were upholstered with leopard or tiger skins (Ja VI 503). Leopards are now almost extinct in northern India. See Kālasīha.

Dukūla. A type of plant, the fibres of which were used to make a fine cloth (A IV 393; Ja II 21; S III 146).

Deḍḍubha. A water snake described as small, harmless, with a large head and a needle-like tail (Ja VI 194). It was also called udakadeḍḍubha, ‘the water deḍḍubha (Ja I 361; III 16). This could be the Buff-striped Keelback, Amphiesma stolata. This little snake has a relatively short body and a long thin tail, almost a quarter of its total length, large eyes and is usually olive-brown with buff stripes around its body. A common snake, it is often seen along river banks and in marshy areas where it feeds almost exclusively on frogs and toads. The keelback is described as ‘a remarkably inoffensive and gentle little snake’. When alarmed, rather than fleeing, it curls up, flattens its body and distends itself by deep inhalations.

Devadāru. Deodar or Himalayan Cedar, Cedrus deodara (Ja V 419; V422). The Pali name and its Sanskrit equivalent means ‘wood of the gods’. One of India’s most beautiful trees, the deodar cedar grows in the Himalayas between 1500 and 3200 meters where it forms dense forests. When young the tree had a pyramidal shape maturing to becoming flat-topped with horizontal spreading branches, often drooping at the ends. The timber is durable, rot-resistant and widely used in construction.

Dviguṇapalāsa. See Kiṃsuka.

Dhaṅka. See Kāka.

Dhañña. Grain. Grains are the seeds of various cereal grasses. The seven types of grain usually mentioned in the Tipiṭaka are sāli, vīhi, yava, godhūma, kaṅgu, varaka and kudrūsa (Vin IV 265). Elsewhere, the first two of these are included in a list of edible seeds (M I 57). Grains like wheat and barley have a awn (sāka) at the end of the husk. The bran or pollard (kaṇa, kukkusa, kuṇḍaka or palāpa) of rice, wheat, barley or other grains was considered the most humble type of food, worthy only for slaves and beggars. The Jātaka tells of a once wealthy couple now reduced to penury asking help from a friend they had once helped when he was in a similar position. All he was prepared to give them was some palāpa. The poor man debated with himself whether he should demean himself by accepting such a paltry handout (Ja I 467–68).

Sometimes rice or barley was cooked and then dried, probably to preserve it. Once, during a famine, some monks were given such food which was meant to feed horses. They pounded it in a mortar and then ate it (Vin III 6). During various auspicious occasions grains of popped rice or wheat (lāja) together with flower petals of different colours would be scattered (Ja II 240; VI 42). Small balls of popped rice held together with honey or molasses (madhulāja) were a popular sweet, as they still are today (Ja III 539; IV 281). In a ritual called saddha, done for the benefit of departed ancestors, small balls of either rice or wheat dough called piṇḍin were used (A I 166; V 269). Grain merchants had a reputation for mixing chaff with the grain they sold (Ja VI 110). The Jātaka gives this advice to the prudent man: ‘Regularly visiting the threshing floor, the barn, the herds and the fields he should have grain carefully measured and stored in granaries, and have it carefully measured and cooked at home’ (Ja VI 297). See Aparaṇṇa, Nīvāra, Taṇḍula and Yava.

Dhanukārika. A type of plant (Ja V 420).

Dhanutakkāri. A type of tree bearing beautiful flowers (Ja V 420, VI 535). The name means ‘bow takkāri so it might be related to or similar in appearance to the takkāri.

Dhanupāṭali. A type of plant (Ja V 422). The name means ‘bow trumpet flower tree’.

Dharaṇīruha. A type of tree (Ja VI 497).

Dhava. Anogeissus latifolia, A common deciduous medium-sized to large tree with whitish bark and broadly elliptic leaves and which grows on dry ridges and hills (Ja VI 528). It has a very straight trunk and is prized for its timber. The Buddha mentioned it along with sāla and phandana as being the type of tree people would clear of māluvā creepers, presumably because of its usefulness (A I 202).


Nakula. Grey Mongoose, Herpestes edwardsii, also maṅgusa (Ja VI 538), the most common of the three species of mongoose found in northern India. An alert creature with an elongated body, short legs and tawny grey fur, the mongoose is famous for eating snakes although it also hunts birds, rats and insects. Mongoose were captured and trained to fight snakes for entertainment or to find and kill those that invaded homes. They are a cautious creature and go stealthily when they see humans (A V 289). Indians have long believed that before hunting snakes mongoose eat certain herbs as an antidote against venom. Nāgasena said: ‘As a mongoose approaches a snake to seize it only after having supplied its own body with medicine, so too the meditator, the earnest student of meditation, on approaching this world abounding as it is in anger and malice, plagued by quarrels, strife, contention and hatred, must anoint his mind with the medicine of love’ (Mil 394). Today, mongooses are said to eat the leaves of the Mongoose Plant, Ophiorrhiza mungos, as an antidote. According to the Jātaka, the Bodhisatta once brought a mongoose and a snake together as friends by teaching them about peace and unity (Ja II 53).

Najjuha. A type of bird (Ja VI 528; 538).

Nattamāla. A type of plant (Vin I 201). The Samantapāsādikā and several other ancient texts say this is an alternative name for the karañja.

Narada. Spikenard, Nardostachys jatamansi (Ja VI 537), also maṃsi. A erect perennial herb with elongated spatulate leaves and a rosy-pink or sometimes blue flower. The whole plant has a distinct lingering smell but the stout black-coloured rhizome in particular gives off a sweet spicy fragrance. The Buddha referred to the root as kāḷānusārī and considered it to be the foremost of all root fragrances (A V 22). An amber or sometimes greenish oil is extracted from the root by steam distillation. Both the whole root and the oil are widely used in medicines, perfumes and to make incense. Spikenard grows on the southern side of the Himalayas between 3500 and 4500 metres and is usually collected from the wild, although occasionally cultivated. Historical records show that spikenard made its way by trade as far as Egypt in ancient times.

Naḷa. A general term for reeds, grasses that grow in or near water (D III 75). Numerous types of reeds grow in northern India but few of them can be identified with the ones mentioned in the Tipiṭaka. A special caste of people harvested certain reeds (D I 51). They would cut the stalks, grasp them, shake them up and down, throw them aside and then cut more (S III 155). After this, the stalks would be tied into sheaves (S II 114). The Buddha said: ‘By hankering for the future and pining for the past, fools dry up and wither away like a green reed that has been cut’ (S I 5). Numerous household articles were made out of reeds such as sandals, stools (Vin IV 39), baskets and mats. Hollow reed stems (naḷa-daṇḍaka) were used as needle cases (Ja I 170). They were also used to make small huts (S I 156; IV 185), to thatch the roofs of houses and in the wattle-and-daub construction of walls (Ja IV 318). In the Jātaka, there is a story about merchants who sail to a sea called Nāḷamala which looked like a vast expanse of reeds (Ja IV 140). This almost certainly refers to the Shatt-al-arab below the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Iraq. Isikā (D I 77; M II 17), kaṭṭhaka (Dhp 164) and pabbaja (Th 27; 233; Vin I 190; S I 77), were all different types of reeds. Sara was a tall reed or grass with sharp leaves used to make arrow shafts (S IV 198).

Naḷapi. A type of aquatic animal (Ja VI 537).

Nāga1. Iron-Wood Tree, Mesua ferrea (Ja I 35, 80), also nāgakesara. A large evergreen tree with narrow pointed leaves, bright red and shiny when new, and which produces a large fragrant four-petaled white flower. The flower is referred to as nāgamāḷika (Ja VI 269) or nāgapuppha (Mil 283) and even when dried retains its fragrance. When the iron-wood tree is in bloom on a Himalayan mountain, and when the gentle breezes are blowing, they waft the fragrance of the flowers for ten or twenty yojana (Mil 283). According to Hinduism, the arrows of Kāma, the god of sensual love, are tipped with these flowers. The tree gets its English name from the exceptionally hard timber which is used for building.

Nāga2. Cobra, large snakes of the family Elapidae which are capable of flattening the long ribs in their necks into a hood when threatened. There are three species of cobra found in northern India. When referring to the cobra the common words for snakes, āsīvisa (Ja II 274), sappa (Ja VI 6) and uraga (Ja VI 166) are used together with the comment that it has a hood, suggesting that the cobra was also known as ‘the hooded snake’.

Snake charmers were a feature of street life in cities and towns (Ja III 198) and they usually used cobras because of their impressive appearance, their ability to stand erect and their tendency to follow and therefore appear to dance to the moving flute played by the charmer. These charmers were believed to use special herbs and magic spells to mesmerize cobras in order to attract and then catch them. They would approach the snake, seize it by the tail, drag it backwards so that it would be stretched out full length and then use what was called a ‘goat’s foot stick’ to pin its head down. Seizing it by the head and applying pressure to the sides would force the cobra’s mouth open so the charmer could spit the juice of certain herbs into it which would, it was believed, break its fangs. Over the next few days the cobra would be subjected to a series of procedures meant to pacify it and get it used to being handled. These procedures were called cuṇṇamāna, tantamajjita and dussapoṭhima and seem to have involved wrapping the cobra in cloth and then stretching, squeezing, massaging and striking it. After this the cobra was ready to be used (Ja IV 457). During their performances, charmers would make cobras dance and drape them around their necks (Ja I 370). They would feed them with frogs they had killed (Ja IV 458). The species of cobra favoured by charmers has always been the nocturnal Indian Cobra, Naja naja, because daylight hampers its ability to strike. See Kaṇhasappa and Sappa.

Nāgalatā. Uncertain, but perhaps the same as tambūla (Ja I 80). The name means ‘snake vine. Apparently a twig of this vine would be used to clean the teeth (Ja I 232). See Bhujalaṭṭhi and Nāgavallika.

Nāgavallika. Uncertain, but perhaps the same as tambūla or Betel Vine (Ja VI 536). The name means ‘snake vine.’ See Nāgalatā.

Nādiya. A type of plant (Ja VI 536). The commentary says that it is a kind of garlic, lasuṇa, perhaps meaning that it has a pungent smell or sharp taste. This could be one or another of the plants of the Colocasia genus in the family Araceae, called Taro or Elephant’s Ear in English. Other possibilities are Water Pepper, Persicaria hydropiper and Watercress, Nasturtium officinale. All these plants are commonly eaten and have a strong pungent taste. Exactly why Indian culture from a very early period shunned strong tasting and strong smelling vegetables is not known. See Lasuṇa.

Nāmaka. A type of bird (Ja VI 538).

Nāḷikera. Coconut Palm, Coco nucifera (Ja IV 159, V 384), also called nārikera. A tall palm with large pinnate leaves. The woody flower ranges in colour from creamy white to bright yellow and produces large oval fruits in which is a round nut with a white edible kernel. Coconut palms are of enormous economic importance, producing oil, copra, fibre and timber.

Niṅka. A type of animal (Ja V 406; VI 277), also nīka, nikka. A number of ancient sources mention this animal in lists of wild animals, specifically in lists of animals that live in marshes or swamps, including the boar, swamp deer and buffalo. If this is correct is could well be the Hog Deer, Hyelaphus porcinus. This small deer is dark brown with lighter underparts, short legs and rounded ears. When alarmed it runs through the forest with its head lowered so it can duck under obstacles rather than leap over them as most other deed to. This lowered head is reminiscent of the behaviour of pigs and hence the animal’s English name. The hog deer is found throughout northern especially in the long grasses that grow in the swampy areas.

Nigguṇḍī. Chaste Tree, Vitex negundo (Ja VI 535). A large shrub with a distinct smell, leaves covered with fine hair and white or sometimes lavender flowers. The nigguṇḍī is common on waste grounds and on the outskirts of villages. The Visuddhimagga says the flower is blue (Vism 257). See Sinduvārita.

Nigrodha. Banyan Tree, Ficus benghalensis. This large evergreen tree has a red fruit and produces aerial roots which support the ever-spreading branches, (Ja VI 14; S I 207). The banyan is famous for growing on other trees and eventually stunting them. The Jātaka describes a bird eating banyan figs, later dropping its excrement in the fork of a Flame of the Forest or palāsa tree where the banyan seeds germinated, put forth red shoots and foliage and eventually strangled the tree (Ja III 208). The Buddha said that craving is like the trunk of the banyan that clings to and eventually envelops the things it comes into contact with (S I 207). He also said that passions come from oneself just as the aerial roots of the banyan emerge from the trunk (khandhajā) and the upper branches.

Banyan figs are about the size of small cherries, red when ripe and could be ‘luscious and as sweet as granulated sugar’ (Ja III 110; A III 369). People are said to have eaten them (A III 43) although they are not considered edible today, being too dry, tasteless and woody.

During the Buddha’s stay at Bodh Gaya, he spent seven days sitting at the foot of the Goatherd’s Banyan Tree (Ud 3). Once, he compared the kind, generous and believing lay man to a banyan tree: ‘Just as in some pleasant countryside where four roads meet the great banyan tree is a haven of rest for all the birds; even so the believing lay man is a haven of rest for many, for monks and nuns, for lay men and lay women’ (A III 42–3). A popular place near Kapilavatthu, the Buddha’s hometown, was the Banyan Park, perhaps named after a large banyan tree that grew there (A V 83). People would make vows before banyan trees, offering them flowers and perfume, watering them and reverently walking around them and hence their alternative name ‘Vow Tree’ (vaṭarukkha, Ja I 259). One of the 32 characteristics of the Mahāpurisa’s body is that it has the proportions of a banyan tree, i.e. the length of his arm is equal to his height (D II 18). The previous Buddha Kassapa was enlightened under a banyan tree (D II 4).

Banyan is an English word derived from the Gujarati banyan, ‘a merchant’, Pali vāṇija. The first English travellers in India noticed that itinerant merchants would often spread out their wares under the local village banyan tree.

Nicula. See Mucalinda.

Nimba. Neem Tree, Azadirachta indica, sometimes pucimanda (A I 32, V 212; Ja IV 205). A large deciduous tree the leaves of which have an extremely bitter taste and medicinal and insecticidal properties. It was believed that a mango tree growing next to a neem would give bitter fruit as a result (Ja II 105). Neem produces a hard durable timber and stakes made from the wood were used to impale criminals (Ja III 34). An extract from the leaves was used as medicine (Vin I 201).

In India today, country folk use neem twigs to clean their teeth in the morning, chewing the twig until it frays and then rubbing it up and down over their teeth. The Buddha recommended using a tooth-stick because it keeps the eyes clear, purifies the sinuses, sweetens the breath, cleans the taste buds, prevents phlegm and mucus getting in the food and makes food more tasty (A III 250). However, he does not say what type of wood the tooth-stick should be made from.

Nisātakā. A type of animal (Ja VI 538).

Nīpa. See Kadamba.

Nīlagīva. See Mayūra.

Nīlapupphī. A type of creeper with blue flowers (Ja VI 536), perhaps an alternative name for girikaṇṇika.

Nīlaphalaka. Uncertain, but possibly Beta vulgaris, a variety of spinach (Ja V 478). The name means dark or blue phalaka. It has dark green, wrinkled, ovate leaves often with a purple or dark crimson stem and is widely cultivated as a nutritious vegetable.

Nīlamakkhikā. The name means ‘blue fly’ and must refer to flies of the genera Lucilia, Pycnosoma, Thelychoeta and Pyrellia, of which there are many species in India (Ja I 165; II 275: III 176). These flies, usually called ‘bluebottles’ in English, have distinctive iridescent abdomens and feed on animal and human faeces, carrion and moist garbage.

Nīlamaṇḍūka. Indian Pond Frog or Green Pond Frog, Euphlyctis hexadactylus. This large frog has a flattish snout, smooth skin except on the flanks which are warty and is bright green or olive with a yellow streak extending from the nose to the vent. Pond frogs favour dense aquatic vegetation where they feed on insects, snails and sometimes smaller frogs. According to the Jātakas, the Bodhisatta was once reborn as a pond frog (Ja II 238). The Pali word nīla usually means blue but can also mean blue-green, green or dark-coloured. The creature is occasionally given the alternative name haritamaṇḍuka meaning ‘green frog.

Nīlī. Indigo, Indigofera tinctoria (A III 230). A small plant of the Legume family from which a blue dye is extracted. Indigo was a major crop in northern India until the development of synthetic dyes. We read of paint made of indigo (S II 101). An extract of the leaves is also used as a medicine.

Nīvāra. Wild Rice or Red Rice, Oryza nivara, (D I 166). It is probably the same as what was called karumbhaka (Mil 252) or sayaṃjātasāli ‘self-sown rice’, or rattasālī, ‘red rice’ (Ja III 247; V 37). Wild rice is an aggressive hardy aquatic grass very similar to domesticated rice except that it has narrower leaves that are a deeper green. They also have a red bran layer, a tinge of which remains even after a high degree of milling. Wild rice is considered a pest because it infests paddy fields, then flowers and sheds its seeds before the harvest, thereby reducing the yield. A gruel consisting of wild rice, sāmāka and the leaves of some other herbs was given as a cure for bloody diarrhoea (Ja III 144). In the Jātaka, ascetics and animals are said to have eaten wild rice. See Taṇḍula.